Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Founders beer dinner at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen


iphone 281When Dora Philip took over ownership of the former Bayou Cafe and rebranded it as The Hollow Bar + Kitchen a few years ago, she began transitioning it into a destination for foodies and beer lovers. Last night, they hosted a beer dinner featuring Founders Brewing Company, which is one of my personal favorite breweries (not to mention one of the biggest and most respected American craft breweries). Though I think The Hollow Bar has been a legitimate craft beer venue for some time now, this beer dinner definitely erased all doubt.

The first thing that caught my attention was the fact tickets were only $40 per person. It’s rare I see beer dinners for less than $50 or even $60 these days. The menu included four courses as part of the dinner with an optional appetizer course with a full pint of Founders All Day IPA for only $5 (that’s a great deal, too).

I of course ordered the appetizer, which was three curry vegetable wontons and an apricot glaze made with the beer (in fact, every item on the menu was partially made with beer). The deep fried wontons really matched up with the All Day IPA quite well. Both are pretty light in flavor, and the grassy/piney notes of the beer complemented the slightly spicy and vegetable flavor of the wantons. Getting a full pint in a souvenir glass (along with a bumper sticker and a bottle opener) was really nice, too.

iphone 282The first official course of the night was an interesting take on the usual salad. A large head of romaine lettuce was bisected and topped with roasted butternut squash, candied walnuts and Grana Padano cheese with Vidalia onion vinaigrette made with Centennial IPA (which, not surprisingly, was the beer paired with that course).

Normally, you don’t associate hoppy beers as something you’d pair with salad, but in this case it was surprising just how well they matched up. Centennial hops tend to have a very flowery character to them in both taste and aroma, so they play off the salad course very well. Additionally, Founders Centennial IPA is not extremely bitter or resiny; so the hops do not overpower the food at all. I’ll have to try this pairing at home some time.
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Next up was the soup course, dubbed “Greens and Beans,” which featured leeks braised in Founders Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale and a few pieces of sausage [NOTE: the soup and entrée courses each had a vegetarian option]. While the soup and accompanying garlic bread were both really good, there was a bit of a snafu with this course. It was initially served with Founders Breakfast Stout due to their keg being mislabeled. I had a feeling something was off when I saw the beer was dark black instead of mahogany. Upon tasting it I noticed it was quite roasty and sweet and I highly doubted its identity. Sure enough, the servers came around with another tray of the correct beer shortly after the error was discovered.

Not that it was a big deal since everyone essentially got a free beer out of this. Though I will say neither the stout nor the Scotch Ale really complemented the soup. However, that’s not to say it distracted from it, either. I find lighter beers like saisons actually go best with vegetable soup.
iphone 289Moving on to the main course, diners were offered the choice of sautéed chicken or veggie chicken; which came with raspberry balsamic vinaigrette, watermelon salsa, and dirty rice. I of course opted for the real chicken and it was quite delectable. Very moist with a bit of a spicy kick to it. The use of watermelon as a garnish was really interesting as it worked as an interesting contrast to the meat.

The beer for this course was Founders Blushing Monk, which I would describe as the equivalent of an imperial framboise lambic at 9.2% ABV. It’s extremely sweet and a bit cloying, though it tastes completely authentic. It complemented the watermelon pieces nicely, though it was a bit distracting going up against the spice from the chicken and rice. An interesting choice, and I appreciate the creativity of this pairing, but it’s not something I would try again.

iphone 292Finally, dessert came which was a small piece of brown sugar cake with a cream cheese frosting made with Founders Breakfast Stout. That was supposed to be the beer for the dessert course, but it was accidentally served with the soup course. Patrons had the choice of another complimentary glass of this beer or they could upgrade to Founders KBS for a small fee. If you know me, you know Founders KBS is my all-time favorite beer, so of course it was worth a few dollars for a few ounces.

The cake was nice and moist, and the cream cheese frosting was, again, interesting and unique since most cakes tend to have a thick, super sweet sugary icing. As for the beer, well, it was pretty great as it always is. I got a lot of grape flavor from all the dark roasted malt used in the brew. The coffee wasn’t nearly as prominent as it is when this beer is released every April, but I did get some nice chocolate flavors and a lovely vanilla essence from the alcohol.

iphone 294I would have to say the beer dinner went well and was very satisfying. It wasn’t arranged like most events I have been to, though. You were allowed to sit anywhere in the restaurant and the two Founders reps – John and Tina – would go around to each table and talk about the beer and food combinations. The Hollow Bar’s new head chef, Anna Weisheit, also went around to each table after the dessert course had been served. That gave the format a personal touch, whereas most beer dinners the rep and/or chef addresses the entire audience all at once.

Lastly, I should mention that I finally got Dora Philip to sign my bottle of She’Brew Triple IPA. She was one of the contributors to that brew back in the Spring, and she appears on the bottle label. I had gotten all the other participants to sign it at the Shmaltz launch party in April. And coincidentally enough, the woman who had taken the photograph for the label – Heidi Benjamin – was also in attendance, so I had her sign it too.

I hope this is the first of many beer dinners at The Hollow Bar + Kitchen. The affordable price, vegetarian options, and opening seating really make for an enjoyable experience.